Divergent views between younger and older Australians risk failure to stop climate change

As the effects of climate change continue to become more apparent through extreme weather phenomena, Australian media bias towards older generations’ opinions is causing friction with younger generations, who are increasingly suffering from climate anxiety.

Australia is falling behind the rest of the world in fighting climate change and a major contributor is the imbalance of voices within the media. Recently, they have been leaning towards older generations’ attitudes concerning Anthony Albanese’s Government’s bid to make energy 82% renewable by 2030. Paul Broad, Former Snowy Hydro CEO attacked the Labor Government’s claim in a Sky News interview, suggesting it will take “80 years [to transition] not eight” despite Eva Hanly, CEO of Squadron Energy, saying they have “the experience, people, agility and scale to meet the huge demand for green energy.” Sky News reporter agrees: “[the Labor Government] is refusing to accept reality [by] thinking renewables are going to save the day.”

Anxieties have arisen surrounding how the federal government is going to be financially capable of supporting these rapid changes in light of their contradictory claim to allow larger numbers of people into the country now that COVID social distancing laws have alleviated. They have not offered any alternatives to coal mining to manage the growing employability crisis that will worsen with the population influx.

It also stimulates questioning of how the federal budget will be able to invest in this as well as the USD $245 billion they are intending to devote by 2055 to the nuclear-powered submarine program with the United States and Britain.

Several media sources, particularly in regional and rural areas, are urging Australians to value “truth over activism”. While there isn’t a full opposition to renewable energy, many are questioning whether more preparation is necessary before full commencement. This is causing contention between Australians, particularly between young and older people. Australia’s youth state that climate change must be addressed sooner rather than later to create better futures for younger generations. 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey shows that 1 in 4 (26%) of young Australians are “very” or “extremely” concerned about climate change.

Recently, newspapers in Southeast Queensland, such as the Courier Mail, have been producing countless articles urging Australians to consider the importance of money and providing affordable energy and livelihood to citizens. There is little discussion about the detrimental impacts professions and resources utilising fossil fuels will have on the planet.

Younger generations are asking to have a larger input in negotiations regarding climate change and sustainable living. Twenty-year-old University of Queensland (UQ) double Bachelor of Law and Science student, Eloise Grant, states that while smaller demonstrations such as Extinction Rebellion & Co reach younger people, “on a systematic level, with so many budding activists being [too young] to vote, it’s only been recently where we have really seen our voting power in action.”

In the 2022 federal election, the Green party won more seats in the lower house than ever before. The Greens candidate for the electoral division of Ryan in Queensland, Elizabeth Watson-Brown said, “we are witnessing a tectonic shift in Australian politics… and Queensland is leading the way.”

Adam Bandt stated it was Greens’ most successful election and “people have backed the Greens in record numbers and delivered a massive mandate for action on climate and inequality.”

Youth have also taken to social media to advance their voices. Users are sharing countless petitions across Instagram stories, providing opportunities to demand laws that protect the natural environment. Australian Conservation Foundation’s petition asks for signatures to protect Australian wildlife, as “Australia has one of the worst extinction records on earth”. The petition has already received over half a million signatures.

Grant believes that “coal and oil are both ticking time bombs of liability right now and we’ve… already heard the death knell of these industries.” She suggests to assist workers in the transition from fossil fuels to green energy, Australia should try “training old workers in new industries.”

Pro sustainable living is common among youth. Last month Southeast Queensland educational institutions UQ and Griffith were provided grants during Queensland Youth Week to put towards issues that matter to young people. UQ students are calling for stronger activism around climate change, believing that “renewable energies such as wind and solar power are crucial for a sustainable future.” Similarly, Griffith’s “project [is] aimed to address the marginalisation of young people’s perspectives on climate change, particularly in rural and regional Australia”.

Grant also comments on the anxiety the long-lasting effects of climate change cause younger generations. “Nature documentaries used to be [exciting] but now they’re an existentialist nightmare [and] it’s easy to feel hopeless every time a private jet emissions scandal or [other climate issues are reported] on the news.” Mission Australia Youth Survey states that nearly 2 in 5 (38%) of young people also experience “high psychological distress” due to climate change.

Despite imbalanced representations in the media, hope still remains. Grant is confident that “we’ve just got to remind ourselves that we can change the future” and prevent the average increase of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 C) in global temperature by 2050 if we reduce CO2 emissions. A major swing Australia can make towards positive changes for the planet, is providing a larger outlet to the generation of the future.

Madeleine Litchfield